Friday, August 9, 2019

Brighten Spice Up a Summer Corn Salad with Mexican Elote Spices

With an abundance of corn this summer, I've been grilling and salt-boiling corn on the cob.


Seasoned with sea salt and black pepper and, sometimes, with luxurious melted butter, I couldn't be happier. On a trip to Mexico, I enjoyed grilled corn on the cob, elote. That Mexican classic made me think about making a salad that trimmed down on the fat, retained the same spices and built out the flavors.

Mexican street food 

Travel in Mexico and you'll encounter street vendors selling a great number of delicious food snacks. Elote is one of the best. An ear of corn is grilled, dusted with dry cheese, slavered with mayonnaise and seasoned with chili powder and fresh lime juice. The ear of corn is always served whole, sometimes resting in a paper dish or with a stick in the bottom like a corndog.


Elote is delicious but messy to eat. A whole ear of corn takes two hands to manage. And, with each bite, the finely grated Cotija cheese floats into the air, landing on clothing.

Deconstructing elote

Cutting the kernels off the cobs makes the seasoned corn easier to enjoy. In Mexico there is a corn kernel snack called esquires, which employs some of the elote seasonings. The recipe I settled on uses olive oil instead of mayonnaise. That way the salad can be served as a light entrée topped with a protein or as a side dish accompanying grilled vegetables, meats, poultry and fish. A perfect summer recipe.


The best way to cook corn on the cob is a topic of heated debate. There are those who will only boil corn, others who will only grill it. I have seen elote prepared using both. My preference is to strip off the husk and grill the ear so that some of the kernels are charred, adding caramelized sweetness to the salad.

Just the right cheese

What gives elote its distinctive flavor is the combination of spicy chili powder, fresh lime juice and Mexican Cotija cheese. 

Powdery when finely grated, Cotija cheese is salty so you may not need to add salt when you make the corn salad. Often described as having qualities similar to feta and Parmesan, Cotija tastes quite different.



Mexican Corn Salad

Adding finely chopped Italian parsley to the seasoned corn kernels brightens the flavors. Cilantro can be used instead of parsley to give the salad a peppery flavor.

The corn can be prepared ahead and kept in the refrigerator overnight. In which case, do not add the Cotija cheese or parsley until just before serving.

To create a colorful salad, just before serving, toss the seasoned corn and parsley with quartered cherry tomatoes, cut-up avocados and butter lettuce or romaine leaves.

After tossing, taste the salad and adjust the amount of Cotija cheese and chili powder and, if needed sea salt.

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 15 to 20 minutes

Total time: 25 to 30 minutes

Yield: 4 entrée servings or 8 side dish servings

Ingredients

4 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1/2 teaspoon sea salt 

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

4 large ears of corn, husks and silks removed, washed, dried

1/2 cup finely grated Cotija cheese

1/2 teaspoon chili powder

Directions

1. Preheat an indoor grill or outdoor barbecue to hot.

2. Pour 2 tablespoons olive oil into a flat pan and season with sea salt and black pepper.

3. Roll the ears of corn in the seasoned olive oil to coat all sides.

4. Using tongs, place the corn on the grill, turning every 2 to 3 minutes so that some of the kernels char, being careful not to burn the ears.

5. After the corn is cooked on all sides, remove and let cool in the flat pan with the seasoned olive oil.

6. To cut the kernels off the cob, use a sharp chef's knife. Hold each ear of corn over the pan with the seasoned oil and slice the kernels off the cob.


7. Transfer the kernels and the remaining seasoned oil into a large mixing bowl.

8. Add Cotija cheese, chili powder and parsley. Toss well.


9. Drizzle the remaining olive oil over the salad and toss.





10. Serve at room temperature with lime wedges on the side.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Hot Weather, Cool Kitchen - Pork Ribs Cooked Overnight & Watermelon Gazpacho

For the past several months where we live in Coastal Southern California, we have benefited from June-Gloom which stretched into July-Gloom. Overcast skies locked in cooler temperatures even as inland Los Angeles baked under an unrelenting sun.

But, now,  the hot weather finally embraced the Pacific Palisades where we live.  But, now worries, with temperatures reaching into the high-80s, it's time to cook up two favorite summertime recipes.

Low-temperature roasted pork ribs and watermelon gazpacho.

Dry Rub Pork Ribs, Cook Over-Night 

Dry rub pork ribs that we cook overnight in a low-temperature oven. We wake up in the morning to the beautiful aroma of pork cracklings. All the cooking happens during the night when we're asleep.

Easy-to-make dry rub pork ribs take only a few steps to prepare and a good night's sleep: 1) clean the ribs, 2) layer on dry rub, 3) put into a 250 F oven when you go to bed and 4) wake up, remove the ribs and enjoy!

Cooking with high heat is exciting. There is great pleasure in watching the pyrotechnics of an outdoor grill as sizzling fat catches fire.  Roasting at low heat in the oven lacks that excitement.
And yet, what happens in an oven set at 250 F has its own kind of magic. In the darkness of the oven, the waves of steady heat melt the fat inside the rack, tenderizing the meat and gently fusing the dry rub to the outside of the ribs.
The best magic of all is that the oven does the work. No standing over a blazingly hot grill on a hot day. Once the oven door closes, there is nothing to be done.
Walk into the kitchen and a savory-sweet aroma scents the air. Pull the baking tray out of the oven and press a finger against the outside of the rack. The soft pliancy of the meat has been replaced by a jerky-like crust as sweet as a crème brulee topping.

Slow-Roasted, Dry-Rubbed Pork Ribs

Rack of pork ribs, trimmed. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt
Cooking time depends on the size and thickness of the rack.
Buy good quality pork. Asian and Latin markets are often a reliable source of fresh pork products. Unlike the ribs sold in upscale supermarkets, the ribs in these markets will most likely be untrimmed.
Above the actual ribs, the rack will have a top portion with boneless flap meat and a section with thick bones similar to country style ribs.  Another smaller piece of flap meat will stretch across the back of the rib bones.
Requiring only a sharp filleting knife and a few minutes, removing the flap meat and the top portion is not difficult. The flap meat is excellent to use in stir fries, slow roasted in the oven or grilled on the BBQ.
A white membrane is attached to the outside of the flap meat. Use a sharp filleting knife to separate the meat from the membrane and discard.
The flap meat and country style bones can be prepared in the same manner as the ribs.  They will cook more quickly and should be removed from the 250 F oven after a total of 2 to 3 hours depending on thickness.
While the rack of ribs does not have to be turned over, the flap meat and country style bones should be turned over after one hour for even cooking. After another hour, use kitchen shears to cut off a small piece of meat to test for doneness. Return to the oven if the meat is not yet tender.
To eat the country style ribs, have a sharp paring knife handy to help cut out those hard to reach tasty bits tucked between the bones.
The ribs can be cooked ahead and reheated. In which case, do not cut apart the ribs until ready to serve. Reheat in a 300 F oven for 15 minutes.
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 6 to 8 hours
Resting time: 5 minutes
Total time: 6 hours, 35 minutes to 8 hours, 35 minutes
Yield: 4 servings
Ingredients
1 rack pork ribs, 4 to 5 pounds, washed, dried
3 cups brown sugar
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup cumin
¼ cup coriander
½ teaspoon cayenne (optional)
Directions
1. Place a wire rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat to 250 F.
2. Select a baking pan or cookie sheet that is 2 inches longer than the rack of ribs. Cover the pan with aluminum foil for easy clean up. Place a wire rack on top of the aluminum foil.
3. Lay the rack of ribs on a cutting board, bone side up. Use a sharp filleting knife to remove the tough membrane on the bone side of the rack. Let the knife help you lift the membrane. Use your fingers to pull the skin off the bones and discard.
4. Do not cut off any fat.
5. In a bowl, mix together dry ingredients.
6. For easy cleanup, lay a sheet of plastic wrap on the cutting board. Place the rack on the cutting board. Layer a thick coat of the dry spices onto both sides, covering the meat and bones.
7. Reserve left-over dry rub in an air tight container and refrigerate for later use.
8. Carefully place the rack of ribs on the wire rack meat side up.
9. Put the baking sheet into the preheated oven.
10. Roast six hours. Remove from oven. Use kitchen shears to cut off a small piece and taste.
11. The outside should have a jerky-crispness. The meat inside should be moist and tender. The tapered end of the rack where the bones are small will cook faster than the rest of the ribs. Use the kitchen shears to cut off that section before returning the rack to the oven for another one-two hours. Be careful not to dry out the meat.
12. Once the ribs are cooked, remove from oven and let the meat rest five minutes.
13. Cut between the rib bones and chop into pieces any flap meat without bones. Serve hot with a green salad, Cole slaw, baked beans or freshly steamed vegetables.

Gazpacho Takes on a Sweet Partner

My second favorite is a riff on gazpacho. We use a mix of watermelon and tomato juice to add lightness and sweetness and create a perfect summer afternoon cocktail.

For tomatoes, we go to our favorite farmers market. Ever since it opened, the Pacific Palisades farmers market has been as much a part of our Sundays as the New York Times. Right now, an abundant crop of tomatoes means the price is right to buy all we want.


I learned to appreciate this hybrid-gazpacho on a trip to Switzerland. In Zurich I had a tasting at Rive Gauche, the casual dining cafe at the historic and beautiful Baur au Lac Hotel close to Lake Zurich.

I stayed at the hotel to write a profile for Luxury Travel Magazine. I was eating at Rive Gauche because I was going to do a video cooking demonstration with the chef, Olivier Rais, a delightful, talented chef who is passionate about cooking.


One of the dishes he wanted me to enjoy was his version of gazpacho, one that added watermelon juice to soften the acidity of the ripe uncooked tomato juice that is the basis of traditional gazpacho. I have certainly seen this hybrid dish before.


But I was particularly taken with chef Rais' version, a clarified liquid served in a glass. All the vegetable bits had been strained out with the result that the gazpacho became an exceptionally refreshing, summer beverage.

When I interviewed chef Rais, he had recently returned from Los Angeles where he spent time at Crossroads Kitchen, a well-regarded vegan restaurant, owned by Tal Ronnen.


Invited to a tasting dinner at Crossroads Kitchen, I had an opportunity to enjoy chef Ronnen's version of the watermelon gazpacho. Similar in flavors but different, chef Ronnen did not filter out the vegetable bits, giving his gazpacho a deliciously rustic taste.


For my version, I split the difference between the two chefs. I strained the tomato pulp but retained some of the texture.

I hope you have the opportunity to visit Rive Gauche in Zurich and Crossroads Kitchen in Los Angeles to taste and compare their gazpachos. In the meantime, please try this very easy-to-make recipe.

Watermelon Gazpacho


Ripe tomatoes and a ripe watermelon are essential. Both should be sweet and full of juice.

If any watermelon juice is left over, make watermelon ice by gently heating the juice and reducing the liquid by a quarter. Cool, then pour into ice cube trays or a freezer-proof container. Freeze and use to sweeten vodka cocktails or lemonade. As the ice cubes melt, sweet watermelon juice releases into the drink. Delicious!


Serves 4-6

Total time to prepare: 20 minutes

Ingredients

2 pounds ripe tomatoes, washed, stems removed
2 pounds ripe watermelon, washed
1 ripe avocado
1 cup homemade croutons
1 ripe avocado, washed
5 dried bay leaves
1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
Pinch cayenne
Sea salt to taste

Directions

Place a box grater over a non-reactive bowl. Grate the tomatoes and collect all the juice. Or, run the chopped tomatoes through a food mill and collect the juice. Scrape the pulp off the underside of the food mill sieve and add to the juice. Pour into a large container.

Add the dried spices to the tomato juice. Cover and refrigerate at least one hour or overnight.

Use a sharp knife to cut off the watermelon rind. Press the flesh through a fine mesh sieve or through a food mill and collect all the juice. Pour into a large container and refrigerate.


Just before serving, peel the avocado, remove the pit and chop into dime-sized pieces. Pour the tomato juice through a sieve to remove the dried spices.


Combine equal amounts of seasoned tomato juice and watermelon juice and mix well.

Pour gazpacho into bowls or cups. Top with avocado and croutons. Serve chilled.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Watermelon Surprise Ice Cubes Make a Refreshing Cocktail, Alcoholic or Not


I posted this article last summer. This year the world seems even hotter. A good time to share an easy-to-make, delicious cocktail.

A summer heat wave is messing with planet earth. Making an icy-cold batch of watermelon ice cubes will definitely take the edge off the heat.
You love summer but not when it is uncomfortably hot. For relief, you could jump into the pool. Or, you could cut a thick slice of watermelon and let the sweet juices cool you down. Even better, you could fill a tall glass with a watermelon cocktail made with watermelon ice cubes and straight-from-the-freezer vodka and settle into the chaise lounge.

You stir the ice cubes. Bits of watermelon juice break free. The crystal clear vodka turns pink. You sip, stir and eat a watermelon ice cube and suddenly you are not overheated any longer.  Now, you are cool and happy.

The non-alcoholic version is as delicious. Fill a tall glass with watermelon ice cubes and pour in freshly made lemonade. Stir and enjoy.

Summertime and the livin’ is easy

Summer is good for watermelon. They grow quickly in the heat of the sun, producing fat, heavy fruit loaded with sweetness.
At the farmers market I was always told to use a hand to thump on the melon. When the sound was deep and resonant, the melon was ripe, ready to eat. If there is a farmer you frequent at your neighborhood market, ask for advice about a good melon that’s ready to eat.
Prices for watermelon vary greatly. At Asian and Latin markets, watermelon can sell for as little as 10 cents a pound. At upscale supermarkets and farmers markets, the prices can be significantly higher.
A melon is delicious at room temperature or ice cold. I like to chill the melon overnight in the refrigerator. Of course, the easiest way to eat watermelon is to use a sharp knife to cut out a thick slice.
But when I was in Zurich recently I met Olivier Rais, a talented chef who runs the bistro Rive Gauche in the iconic hotel Baur au Lac across the street from Lake Geneva. He had just returned from working with Tal Ronnen, the celebrated chef who created Crossroads Kitchen, an upscale Los Angeles restaurant devoted to vegan cuisine.
Rais made several vegan dishes for me to taste, one of which was a watermelon-gazpacho served in a glass.
I love watermelon but had never thought of extracting the juice. When I replicated his gazpacho at home, I had watermelon juice left over. Deciding to experiment, I reduced the juice in a sauce pan over a low flame. Once the juice cooled, I poured it into a mini-ice cube tray.
Watermelon ice cubes in an ice cube tray. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt
Watermelon ice cubes in an ice cube tray. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt
That night I added the ice cubes to vodka that we keep in the freezer. I dropped in an espresso spoon, settled into a chair and stirred my drink. After a few sips, I realized that I had stumbled onto an easy-to-make, deliciously refreshing cocktail. Summer’s perfect drink.
Serve the cocktail with an espresso or small spoon. One of the pleasures of the drink is stirring the ice cubes. As the ice cubes melt, the watermelon juice infuses the vodka. The mellow sweetness takes the edge off the vodka.
As you stir, the ice cubes crater and reduce by half. Use the spoon to scoop up the icy bits. In an effervescent moment, the softened ice cubes dissolve like pop rocks in your mouth.

Watermelon Surprise

Watermelon slices. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt
Watermelon slices. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt
Use any size plastic ice cube tray. The mini-trays that make 1” square ice cubes work well because the ice cubes melt easily. Use only unflavored premium vodka, and for non-alcoholic drinks, add the ice cubes to glasses of carbonated water or lemonade.
Prep time: 30 minutes
Freezer time: 1 hour or overnight depending on the temperature of the freezer
Total time: 1 hour 30 minutes or overnight and 30 minutes
Yield: 4 servings
Ingredients
1 (3-pound) watermelon, washed
8 ounces unflavored premium vodka
Directions
1. Place the vodka bottle in the freezer the night before serving.
2. Using a sharp knife, remove the rind from the watermelon. Discard.
3. Cut the melon into chunks, removing any seeds.
4. Place a food mill or a fine mesh strainer over a non-reactive bowl.
5. Press the watermelon chunks through the food mill or strainer, capturing all the juice in the bowl. Discard any pulp and seeds.
6. Pour the juice into a sauce pan over low heat. Reduce volume by 30%. Remove from stove. Allow to cool.
7. Pour the reduced juice into the ice cube tray.
8. Place into freezer.
9. Just before serving, pour 1½ ounces ice cold vodka into each glass. Place 5 to 6 ice cubes into each glass.
10. Serve with an espresso or small spoon.
Main photo: Watermelon Surprise, watermelon ice cubes in a vodka cocktail. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt
   

Friday, June 28, 2019

Ready. Set. Go. Have a Wonderful 4th of July Picnic

I am reprising my July 4th post from previous years Everything we made last year, we're making again because we enjoy the dishes so much. We hope you will enjoy the holiday this year and celebrate what is best about our country and our lives.

We're having a party. On July 4th we'll gather in the park opposite our local high school (Pali High) to eat, catch up and watch fireworks. Everyone will bring food and drinks to share and a sweater because when the sun goes down, it gets chilly.

We have been doing this for so many years, I'm not certain when we started. Over the years sometimes the group grows to almost thirty. Sometimes a handful of friends shows up. It all depends on what day of the week the holiday falls. We've noticed that when the 4th falls on a weekend, there isn't enough time to travel out of town, so our group swells. This year, the 4th is on Thursday, so our group will be more intimate. Big or small, the gathering is fun.

Everyone is asked to bring a favorite food. Something special. This year I'm making favorite dishes, ones designed to share at a picnic or at buffet-style fireworks watching party.


I love my kimchi chicken wings (see below), sticky sweet with heat, moist and tender. Nothing is better except fried chicken the way chef Wes Whitsell (Manuela DTLA) showed me for a cooking video we did last month. His fried chicken is crispy and moist. For the cooking demonstration he made wings, thighs and legs. He doesn't like breasts because they don't have enough flavor. I pretty much agree. For my pot luck contribution, I'm making cut apart wings and legs, the easiest parts to eat at a picnic.


I'm also making carrot salad with golden raisins soaked in lemon juice & seasoned with black pepper, Yukon gold potato salad with charred corn & parsley, a charred corn & vegetable saladroasted beet saladgarbanzo bean salad with charred onions & Lacinato (purple) kale, salt boiled broccoli florets and a buttermilk custard pie I saw Martha Stewart demonstrate on her PBS show.


I'll also make an Italian parsley salad with chopped vegetables and pitted olives and a Little Gem lettuce salad with carrot rounds and feta cheese, served with whole wheat lavash.


Only recently did I discover Little Gem lettuce. First, at Glatt, a kosher market, on Pico east of Robertson and then at the Wednesday Santa Monica Farmers Market at the Garden of Organic stand. At first I thought they were "baby" romaine lettuces. They have a cleaner, crisper flavor, with less water and more crunch. Wrapped in a damp kitchen towel and placed into a plastic bag, the heads will keep fresh in the refrigerator for three weeks.


Here's the recipe I'll use for the 4th (which is exactly the recipe I use when I make the salad at home except sometimes I'll trade out the feta for blue cheese).

Crispy Little Gem Lettuce Salad

When making the salad, leave the leaves whole so they don't wilt.

For the olives, use any kind you enjoy. We like Castelvetrano Green olives, which can be found pitted for easy use, although olives taste best when not pitted.


Serves 4

Time to prepare: 20 minutes

Ingredients

2 heads Little Gem Lettuce, leaves removed whole, washed, pat dried

1 large carrot, washed, ends removed, peeled, cut into thin rounds

1 large tomato, stem end removed, washed, pat dried, cut into dime size pieces

1 cup pitted olives, roughly chopped

1 scallion, ends removed, washed, brown leaves discarded, cut into paper thin rounds (optional)

1/2 cup feta, pat dried, crumbled

1 medium avocado, washed, peeled, pit and any brown spots removed, cut into dime sized pieces

1/2 cup homemade croutons (optional)

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar, reduced over a low flame to 2 teaspoons, cooled

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions

Lay the Little Gem leaves in the bottom of a serving bowl. Sprinkle on the carrots, tomatoes, olives, scallions (optional), feta, avocado and croutons (optional).

Just before serving, season with sea salt and black pepper, drizzle on olive oil and reduced balsamic vinegar.

Serve with a knife and fork.

Kimchi Chicken Wings

Chicken wings are sold whole, the drumstick only or the two-bone part. If you prefer one part of the wing over another, buy only those. The whole chicken wing will be less expensive and the wing tips can be roasted and used to create stock.

Do not use the whole chicken wing, which is too difficult to eat. 



I prefer preservative-free kimchi. I have been enjoying Mommy Boss napa cabbage kimchi. Read the label carefully because there are different kinds of kimchi, I would recommend only using cabbage kimchi without dried shrimp.

Serves 4

Time to prepare: Marinate overnight, prep 20 minutes, bake 60 minutes

Ingredients

2 pounds chicken wings

1 cup kimchi, without preservatives

1/2-3/4 cup brown sugar, depending on taste

1 medium yellow onion, washed, pat dried, peeled, root and stem removed, thin sliced from root to stem

1/4 cup kimchi liquid

1 tablespoon olive oil

Directions

Thinly slice kimchi and mix together with onion slices, brown sugar, kimchi liquid and olive oil.

Add chicken wing parts to marinade. Mix well. Place in a covered bowl or sealed plastic bag. Refrigerate over night.

Preheat oven to 350F.

Prepare a roasting pan. Line the bottom with aluminum foil. Because the drippings are sticky (and delicious!) I place a Silpat sheet on top of the aluminum foil so I can easily retrieve the bits of caramelized onions and kimchi. Place a wire on top of the aluminum foil and Silpat sheet.


Place the chicken wings on top of the wire rack, allowing space between each part to allow for even cooking. Reserve the liquid marinade with the onions and kimchi.

Place wings into preheated oven.

While the wings are roasting, place the reserved marinade into a small sauce pan and reduce the liquid by 1/2 over a low heat.

Remove wings from the oven after 30 minutes.

Turn wings over and baste with reduced marinade, placing onion and kimchi slices on each wing.

Return to oven.

After 30 minutes, remove and check for doneness. The onions and kimchi slices should be lightly browned and beginning to crisp. The wings should be tender. If not, return to oven and continue baking. Check every 10 minutes for doneness.

Serve hot as an appetizer or on top of steamed rice. The wings are delicious at room temperature, perfect for a picnic. However they are served, have a good supply of napkins available.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Ready, Set, Infuse - It's Time to Make Homemade Umeshu, Japanese Plum Wine

If you love umeshu, Japanese plum wine, and you want to make your own, the race is on. Ume are only available for three-four weeks in the spring. Right now, in Los Angeles, they are available in Iranian markets and in some Asian markets. Buy your ume right away or you will have to wait another year.

I first learned about umeshu from a supermarket news letter. Marukai, a Japanese market chain, with a store in West Los Angeles on Pico near Bundy, mails a magazine-style newsletter with the store's weekly specials. The opening article each month has an explainer about a particular Japanese food or cooking style.

The article described how to turn ume (Japanese plums) into umeshu (Japanese plum wine). The process was simple. Buy ume, wash them, pull out the little stems, place in a large glass jar, add Japanese rock sugar and a large bottle of vodka, put in a cool dark place and come back in a year.

Now I was on the hunt for ume. I found them at Marukai, at Iranian markets and downtown at a farmers market near the Los Angeles Public Library Main Branch.



Because I had made Limoncello, the idea of waiting a year appealed to me. And the added benefit of putting out very little effort added to what seemed like fun.



When we visited Yabu, our favorite Japanese restaurant, I told the waitstaff that I was going to make umeshu. They loved the idea. It turned out, when they were growing up, umeshu was a liquor made by their grandmothers. Store bought umeshu did not compare to their childhood memories.

They also told me was that after a year bathing in the vodka, the hard green ume would become sweetly edible.



Serving the fruit with the spirit is a nice touch. Kind of an alcoholic fruit punch. 
Umeshu or Japanese Plum Wine
Although frequently called plum wine, ume is actually more of a apricot than a plum and umeshu is a spirit, not a wine. 

Available in Japanese and Korean markets, ume are also sold in Middle Eastern grocery stores. Armenians and Iranians eat the unripened plums raw but do not use them to prepare a liquor. In Asia, ume are also eaten preserved in salt and called umebsoshi in Japan. 
Sold at a premium price because of the short growing season in the spring, only use green, unripe fruit. Blemished ume should not be used.

Available large and small, I prefer ume that are quarter-sized rather than dime-sized.

Some recipes call for each ume to be punctured all over with an ice pick. Doing so, it is said, accelerates the infusion process. That is probably true, but punctured ume discolor and are not good to eat.

Mention umeshu to someone from Japan and invariably they will smile

Traditionally umeshu is made by grandmothers. In the spring when the plums appear in the markets, bright green and hard as rocks, the grandmothers buy up all they can find, place them in a large jar, add rock sugar and shōchū (similar in taste to vodka). The jar is placed under the sink and everyone waits a year until the plums soften and the shōchū has mellowed.

A good friend described visiting her mother in Tokyo and finding a kitchen cabinet filled with giant jars labeled the year the umeshu was bottled. I have to confess, my garage has bottles of umeshu going back five years now. Today I bottled my 2019 vintage!

When you make your umeshu, wait one year. to enjoy it. Once the infusion is ready to serve,  taste and, if the umeshu is too harsh, add a tablespoon of Japanese rock sugar, stir well and wait another month.

The longer you wait, the more the umeshu will become rounded and mellow in flavor.  
After at least a year in their sweetened, alcoholic bath, the ume can be eaten. I like to include them in the cocktail, either whole or cut off the pit, chopped up and added as a flavor garnish that can be eaten with a small spoon.
Prep time: 10 minutes + one year
Yield: 2 quarts umeshu, 2 quarts macerated ume

Ingredients
2 pounds ume, washed, stems removed
1 pound Japanese rock sugar
1.75 l unflavored vodka, the most inexpensive you can find
Directions
1. Place the ume in a large bowl. Cover with water and let stand 2 hours. Drain, rinse and remove by hand any stems. Wash well a gallon glass jar with a lid.
2. Place the ume into the jar.
3. Add the rock sugar.
4. Pour in the vodka. Stir well.
5. Cover.
6. Place in a dark, cool area where the jar will be undisturbed for at least one year.
7. Serve ice cold with ice cubes, with seltzer and with whole or chopped up ume as a garnish.  






Thursday, April 18, 2019

Perfectly Delicious Tea Sandwiches, Ideal for Snacks, Dinner Parties and Picnics on an Airplane

Tea sandwiches aren't just for fancy tea rooms. They are easy-to-make and enjoyable for just about any occasion.  They look elegant, so they enhance a dinner party table. Easy-to-eat, they're ideal for afternoon snacks or picnics.



Usually made with white bread and also called finger sandwiches, the crustless sandwiches have fillings that can feature salmon, beef, tuna, crab, ham, chicken and cucumber. 

Fun to make, delicious to eat

When I'm working at my desk, a plate of tea sandwiches and a cup of hot coffee keep me happy all afternoon.

I have two favorites. One is made with chopped hardboiled eggs mixed together with finely chopped parsley, carrots and capers, flavored with mayonnaise, sea salt and freshly ground back pepper.


The other is as delicious as it is elegantly simple.

Thin radish slices are placed on buttered bread, seasoned with flake salt and freshly ground black pepper. For added flavor, I top the radishes with slices of homemade picked onions. 

On airplanes, I make a picnic lunch to counteract tedium and discomfort. After I'm settled into my too-snug seat,  I look for ways to make the experience more fun. I put on headphones, watch a movie and pamper myself with a meal of tea sandwiches.

No matter the turbulence, the discomfort of sitting too close to a stranger or the lack of leg room, when I'm snacking on my elegant sandwiches, I'm happy.

Quality above all

Tea sandwiches are only as good as the ingredients. 

Ideally the eggs and radishes come from a farmers market or a quality grocery store. Use sweet butter (unsalted), Best Foods/Heilman's Mayonnaise (my preference) and a good quality white bread. Marukai, our local Japanese Market, carries baked goods from MamMoth Bakery.  I use the bakery's thin-sliced white bread. 

Tea sandwiches can be as heavily seasoned as you enjoy, or, like the egg salad and radish sandwiches, lightly seasoned with flake salt (or sea salt) and freshly ground black pepper. 

Pickled Spring Onions

Spring onions are scallions that have matured in the ground and developed a fat bulb.


Thin-sliced pickled spring onions brighten the flavor of the radishes. Prepare them a week before use. Kept refrigerated in a sealed jar, the onions will last for months as their flavor evolves. Besides placing in tea sandwiches, serve the pickled spring onions with seared steak and roast chicken or added to stews.

Only use kosher salt that is additive-free like Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt.

Ingredients

1 bunch spring onions, washed, root ends and discolored leaves removed

2 cups water

2 cups white wine vinegar

1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns

1/4 - 1/3 cup kosher salt, depending on preference

4 dried bay leaves

Pinch hot pepper flakes (optional)

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

Directions

Sterilize a large glass jar by boiling in water or cleaned in dish washer.

Leaving 2" of greens attached to the bulbs, cut off the remaining length. Place the bulbs and all the greens into the jar.

Stir kosher salt into water to dissolve. Mix together with vinegar. Add aromatics and olive oil. Stir well. Since the pickled spring onions will have the same flavor as the brine, taste and adjust seasonings by adding more kosher salt, vinegar or water as desired.

Pour brine into the glass jar. Make more brine if needed to cover the onions. Place into refrigerator for a week before using.

Thin-Sliced Radish and Sweet Butter Tea Sandwiches

These days, there are a great many radish varietals at farmers markets. If you like one of the exotic radishes available, use those. 


For me, a basic red-on-the-outside, white-on-the-inside, fat radish reminds me of the appetizers my dad liked. After a long day at work, he'd settle into his favorite easy chair, sip a Seagram's 7 and 7 and enjoy a pre-dinner plate of appetizers that often included radishes. 


My mom taught me to soak the radishes in clean, cold water for ten minutes. That loosens any dirt so the radishes can be easily cleaned with a damp cloth.


Serve the radishes open faced or sandwich-style. Layer the radishes one-deep or pile them on as much as you like. 

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

1 bunch radishes, greens and root discarded, soaked in cold water 10 minutes, washed clean of any grit

6-8 slices, thin sliced white bread, crusts removed

2 tablespoons sweet butter

Flake salt or finely ground sea salt to taste

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 spring onion bulbs, sliced thin (optional)

Directions

Cut the crustless bread slices in half or in quarters. Arrange them on a cutting board and butter them, assemble-line fashion.


Using a sharp knife, slice the radishes into paper-thin rounds.



Arrange the radishes on the buttered bread. Add sliced spring onion onions (optional). Season with flake salt and black pepper. Serve open-faced or as a sandwich.

Egg Salad Tea Sandwiches

Use good quality, extra large eggs and fresh Italian parsley.


The egg salad can be spiced up by adding pepper flakes, curry powder or any spices you enjoy. I prefer a simpler flavoring.

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

6-8 slices, thin sliced white bread, crusts removed

4 extra large eggs

1/4 cup Italian parsley, leaves only, washed, pat dried, finely chopped

1 tablespoon capers, drained, pat dried, finely chopped

2 tablespoons mayonnaise, preferably Best Foods/Hellman's, taste and add more mayonnaise as desired

1 teaspoon kosher salt, preferably Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt

Sea salt, to taste

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Directions



Place eggs in a large sauce pan, add kosher salt and cover with water. Place on a high flame, bring to a boil  and cook 10 minutes. Drain eggs and cool with cold water.


When cooled, peel and discard shells.


Finely chop the eggs. Place in mixing bowl. Add parsley, capers and mayonnaise. Mix well. Season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.


If not used immediately, refrigerate in an airtight container for up to three days.


Cut the crustless bread slices in half or in quarters. Using a flat knife, spread egg salad on the bread. Serve open-faced or as a sandwich.